Joe and Bessie Novomsky

Joseph “Joe” Novomsky (a.k.a. Jojne Nowomesko) was born on 14 March 1886 in Panevezhys, Russia.  He died of cancer on 13 March 1950 in Kings, New York, and is buried in Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens County, New York.  He married Bessie Shuman/Schumann, in New Jersey, USA. She was born in 1890 in Panevezhys, Russia, and she died in 1971 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

Joe Novomsky with Bessie and David

Joseph and Bessie with their son David, circa 1910.

Joe and Bessie grew up under the tough conditions of pre-Revolution Russia, where as Jews they were singled out in a violent game of retribution between the Czarists and their detractors.   Panevezhys had a high population of Jews and was a center of discontent.  Many of the Panevezhys youth at the time were part of the labor Bund or other anti-government groups.   “The Jewish Common Folk of Panevezhys” paints a bleak picture of life there at the time.  We don’t know how Joe participated in the events.

Joe and Bessie fled Russia shortly after the Revolution of 1905, along with about 80 percent of the Jewish youth of Panevezhys.  The couple sailed from Bremen on 12 December 1906 and arrived at the Port of Baltimore on New Year’s Day of 1907 aboard the ship Koln, according to his immigration papers.  He was listed in his papers as Jojne Nowomesko, but he soon used Joe Novomsky as his name.

Joe's 1907 immigration papers show his origins.

Joe’s immigration and naturalization papers show his origins.

Joe first lived in Baltimore, but then settled in Pittsburgh and took up business as a barber.  He was in business at 1803 Center Avenue with the company “Leibovitz, Novomsky and Rapaport” as of 1916.  In 1918 he registered for the World War I draft and was living at the same location.  According to his granddaughter Joan (Novom) Wagner, who was named after Joe, “they left Pittsburgh quite suddenly because Grampa Joe embezzled money and got caught. They left with their dog chasing their car. It was for that reason Uncle Dave never wanted a pet dog. He never forgot that image so I was told by my father or Aunt Fran.”

A 1916 Pittsburgh city directory lists Joe Novomsky at 1804 Center Avenue.

A 1916 Pittsburgh city directory lists Joseph Novomsky at 1803 Center Avenue.

According to Joe and Bessie’s granddaughter Vicki Novom, “Bessie Novomsky was a consummate seamstress. Not sure if her talents were ever used commercially but she made her prospective daughter in law’s (my mother Frances) wedding dress. I was told it was eggshell blue.”  Joan (Novom) Wagner further explains that  “Grandma Bessie had 4 brothers and one sister. The sister died in a concentration camp. One of her brothers, Scholom survived. He escaped the concentration camp with Lucy, a Spanish communist to Caracus and had two children, Carmen and Pepito. Carmen married an Italian and may live in Italy. Pepito lives in Florida according to Stuart. The last name is Wejc. One brother, Wejz, went to South Africa, another, Mietric, settled in Leeds, England after having to escape Poland in the 60’s when after a family reunion they found out he was Jewish. At that time he was a professor at Warsaw. Grandma Bessie showed me the letter he wrote to her when he uprooted his family to England. He did not choose America because he felt they were too continental in their ways.”

Joe Novomsky and Bessie Shuman had the following children:

1. David Novomsky (a.k.a. David Novom, a.k.a. Danny Nolan) was born on 28 Aug 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He died on 24 Dec 1968 in Oceanside, Nassau, New York, USA. He married Frances Sidelsky, daughter of Morris Sidelsky and Zina Gordon on 17 Aug 1945. She was born on 15 Jul 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. She died on 14 May 1999 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.  David and Frances had two children: Marc Novom and Vicki Novom.

2. Henry Novom was born on 05 Sep 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland. He died on 11 December 1966. He married Rachel Lillian Regent.  Henry and Rachel had two children: Joan (Novom) Wagner and Carol (Novom) (Allen) Storey.

3. Bella Novom was born on 25 Jul 1913 in Baltimore, Maryland. She died on 08 August 1975 in Dade, Florida, United States (Age: 61). She married Albert Sack. He was born about 1912 in United States.  Bella and Albert had three children: Saul Sack, Melvin Sack and Stuart Sack.

In 1930, they lived at 603 W. 180th Street in Manhattan, New York where Joseph was still a barber, according to the federal census.  According to granddaughter Carol (Novom) (Allen) Storey, “his shop was near Times Square where many actors on Broadway used to come to have their hair cut and a ‘wet’ shave. There were white hexagon tiny tiles on the floor, the old fashion barber chairs were ‘dark red leather, the back rest had a release to lean back which was used when a ‘wet’ shave was being made using a single blade. The blade was sharpened on a black leather strap which was attached to the arm of the chair. the foot rest was filigree meshed iron, in the back of the shop was a giant domed steamer where the hot towels were warmed. The walls were filled with celebrity images printed in black and white with inscriptions on the photos. I was the first grandchild (therefore the center of attention) and had my baby photos interspersed with the glitterati on the walls. I also have a memory of going to Prospect Park with him, buying a bag of unshelled peanut, and then feeding them to the squirrels.”

By 1940, Joe and Bessie moved to Brooklyn, Kings, New York and lived at 601 Ocean Avenue. David and Henry still lived with them as did Henry’s wife, Lillian Novomsky. Joe and Bessie eventually moved to a smaller apartment on the corner of Albamarle Road and East 21st Street


.This family narrative was written and placed online by Narratio Vitae.